Understanding Soccer Nutrition & The Footballer’s Diet


Football or soccer as it’s globally known, is recognised as the biggest participation sport in the world, and is constantly evolving based on the professionalisation and understanding of the ‘soccer science’ involved.

Teams searching & competing for competitive advantages in every form of the game through innovative coaching, game model development & implementation of specific football or soccer methodology & tactical approaches, individual fitness, collective team fitness capacity & the technical quality of players is of paramount importance.


What Nutrients Does a Footballer Need?

One of the most overlooked elements for developing football player & team performance, however, is through a better understanding of soccer nutrition & the footballer’s diet or soccer player’s diet.

Being able to prescribe sound nutritional advice & correct weekly meal plans for soccer players is seen as a huge advantage when it is used to improve performance, maximise training adaptation & recovery from both training & competitive games.

As players, coaches, performance staff & decision makers, we are all surrounded by lots of simple nutritional advice concerning the frequently asked question – what nutrients does a footballer need?

This advice can be found in a variety of ways, and mostly by companies who are trying to sell soccer nutrition products or supplements.

The more you educate yourself and understand football nutrition, the better informed you’ll be to make better, more effective decisions and answer the most popular questions.


What is Soccer Nutrition?

  • Nutrition is the science that interprets the nutrients and other substances in food.
  • Sports nutrition is the study and practice of food & diet with regards to improving athletic or sports performance.
  • Understanding how to maximise the human performance of individual or team sport players through nutrition is fundamental.
Why is Nutrition Important for Soccer Players?

Recent research has claimed that players are now faced with increased physical demands during the course of a competitive soccer match, and that specific activity differ for each individual player which will lead to increased nutritional energy consumption and expenditure to maximise their physical capability to cover the ground at intensity & recover on and off the pitch.

These activities are different for each player due to factors such as their position within the team, and their natural physical attributes.

As a result of these different factors, it can be suggested that sports nutrition is important for soccer players as well as coaches or practitioners through being able to provide further information about the soccer or footballers diet plan.

Furthermore, gaining a greater understanding of sports nutrition specific to football or soccer may enable you to:

  • Advise on how many calories a soccer player should eat per day to enable players to perform their role or positional requirements & intermittent activities in and out of possession.
  • Maximise the outcomes from specific training programs & interventions.
  • Maximise soccer players recovery within, between & after games & training sessions.
  • Ensure the ideal body composition for soccer players – both the developing youth player, semi-professional player & elite level soccer or football players.
  • Positively influencing the types of soccer injuries & illness through prevention & maximising recovery.

What is a Healthy Diet for a Soccer Player?

Building on the key reasons & importance of nutrition on footballers or soccer performance, understanding what a healthy diet looks like is hugely important.

The basic eating principles are measured around the 3 key macronutrients:

  1. Carbohydrates
  2. Protein
  3. Fats


Below we will dive a little deeper into the 3 fundamental food types for the soccer players diet.



Carbohydrate is the most important fuel for working muscles at high intensity activity such as football and it is suggested that it should make up the bulk of your footballers diet.

For most sports people, especially soccer players dietary wise, 60-70% of energy should come from carbohydrates to be able to perform to maximum levels.

New literature in this space has reported a new way of maximising nutritional intake through ‘nutritional periodisation’ strategies, however this is discussed in more depth within the ISSPF


What is a Carbohydrate?

Carbohydrate is stored in muscles and the liver as glycogen. It is stored with about 3 times its own weight of water and 3 times more glycogen is stored in muscles than in the liver.

There is a limited supply of glycogen in the body – approximately 2000kcals. Though training can influence this figure depending upon the requirements of the sport involved.

Dr. Eirini Manthou (ISSPF Faculty Member) expertly covers in detail the role carbohydrates play in team & individual sports within Lecture 2 of the ISSPF accredited sports nutrition online course: Understanding Micro- & Macronutrients.



Protein makes up part of the structure of every cell in the body. Proteins form the framework of the body and transporting materials around the body & inside cells. It is necessary for the growth and formation of new tissues and also to repair damaged tissues.


How Much Protein Should a Soccer Player Eat?

Protein is suggested to make up approximately 12-15% of a soccer player’s diet. Football players require around 1.3-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

It is required to manufacture enzymes and hormones such as insulin and adrenaline. Protein is constantly being broken down and rebuilt in the body, therefore it is important that there is a regular supply of protein in the footballers diet in order to compensate for the continual loss that occurs in the body through vigorous training & competition.

Protein is made up of smaller building blocks called amino acids, some of which manufactured by the body and some of which are essential amino acids and must be provided through the soccer players diet.


How is Protein Used as Fuel?

When protein is digested within the body, amino groups are converted in the liver into a substance called urea. This is then passed to the kidneys and excreted in the urine. The remainder of the protein is converted into glucose and used as an energy substrate to assist in physical exertion.


5 Good Sources of Protein

  1. Quality meat – avoid processed meat products
  2. Quality poultry
  3. Game i.e. Venison, pheasant
  4. Fish
  5. Eggs


What Does Fat Provide Us With?

  • Energy
  • Fat soluble vitamins


Fat is the most concentrated source of energy in the diet. It provides roughly double the number of calories per gram than carbohydrate and protein. Fat also provides the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K, which are important to our overall nutritional intake.


Types of Fat

Food contains a mixture of three kinds of fats – saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly- unsaturated. i.e. Saturated fats are found in meat, meat products, cooking fats, biscuits, cakes and pastries.

Only a small proportion of your fat intake should come from saturated fat as it is thought to have the most detrimental effect on your health as they raise the level of cholesterol in the blood, which increases your risk of heart disease.

The small amount of fat that we do eat should come from a mono or poly-unsaturated source.

  • Mono-unsaturated can be described as fats that are liquid at room temperature and are found in high quantities in olive and rapeseed oils.
  • Poly-unsaturated fats can be described also as liquid at room temperatures, and is a substance that are found in vegetable oils like sunflower oil and is also found in fish.

Summary: The Footballer's Diet

Nutrition is such a massive topic that we’re only able to scratch the surface in this quick overview but hopefully it has stopped and made you think about the food consumption by your soccer players or football team.

From this article, hopefully you may have an understanding of some of the fundamentals in this specialised area, and the key energy sources required to perform.

Soccer nutrition is vital not just for performance on the pitch but also in the health & wellbeing of individuals, in addition to the recovery phases from training and competitive games.

In addition to the article overviewing some of the key questions in the area of football nutrition, for all you practitioners, students, coaches, medical staff, learners, soccer enthusiasts or even nutritionists wanting to engage more, or further your knowledge in team sport nutrition, click the link below to find out more around sports nutrition.

The ISSPF accredited sports nutrition online course is a blend of highly regarded academic experts & practitioners from around the globe exposing their practical experience & theoretical knowledge for the development of this specialist soccer specific area.


How This Course Will Improve You

  • Understanding the key energy sources required to perform repeated high intensity & explosive movements within the intermittent nature of soccer is of paramount importance.
  • Fueling to perform & recover from both training, and competitive games is very specific across a range of levels of the game.
  • All practitioners and coaches can only benefit themselves and their players even further by having a more in-depth knowledge of nutrition.
  • It may help you to reduce the risk for non-contact muscle injuries, through a better understanding of key timing of nutrients.

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